Roughly a third of food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted globally, which is about 1.3 billion tons per year. At the same time, 800 million people go hungry each day. Changes to global food production and distribution networks could allow these people to be fed with less than a quarter of the food that is wasted just in the US, UK and Europe every year.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (UNFAO) says that “roughly one-third of the edible parts of food produced for human consumption gets lost or wasted globally, which is about 1.3 billion tons per year.” As much as half of all food produced globally is never eaten and the value of this wasted food is worth an astonishing $1 trillion.

At the same time, 800 million people go hungry each day. This equates to one in every nine people on earth being malnourished. If global food production and distribution systems were altered, these people could be fed with less than a quarter of the yearly food waste produced by the US, UK and Europe alone. This would also achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating hunger. Both global organisations and social enterprises are innovating in an attempt to redress the balance.

‘No Food Waste’ is an India-based, socially responsible non-government organisation (NGO) on a mission to end food waste and hunger. The NGO collects surplus food from weddings, parties and functions and re-distributes it within two hours to hungry people. Using its app, it’s possible to pinpoint “hunger points” on a map so that donations can be delivered directly. The NGO has also created food and beverages (F&B) Automated Teller Machines (ATM) as an innovative solution to feed the hungry. These are street-side fridges, where nearby restaurants and shops can store leftover food. Restaurant customers receive donation coupons for the fridge and can give them to people in need. The NGO feeds around 200 people per day across seven cities, including Delhi and Chennai. Its founder, A.G. Padmanaban, has won numerous awards for his social enterprise work.

An Indian restaurant has taken efforts to cut back on food waste a step further. The Kedari Food Court restaurant in the Telangana state of India enforces a ‘no food waste’ policy. Any food left on the plate can lead to the customer being fined INR 50, with the proceeds donated to an orphanage.

Over in Europe, the similarly named ‘NoFoodWasted’ initiative in The Netherlands partners with supermarkets to reduce food waste. Its app alerts users of food items that are about to expire and will be reduced in price. It has around 20,000 users - according to the app developer, August de Vocht - who can upload their shopping list and receive notifications when specific items on that list are on offer. The app has had a positive impact, with participating retailers claiming to have slashed monthly food waste by up to 25 per cent, which equates to around EUR 2,500.  

There are also a number of innovative schemes around the world designed to allow restaurants to monitor the amount of food waste their kitchens generate and then adapt their processes in order to minimise these levels. Examples include MintScraps in the US and Thailand, and the Winnow app which is used in 18 countries. Winnow says that reducing waste typically saves professional kitchens between three and eight per cent on food costs.

In addition to commercial enterprises, more than half of food waste in the developed world accumulates in people’s homes. A UK-based social enterprise, OLIO, encourages hyper local food sharing networks. It connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses that may have spare food to share. This ranges from food nearing its sell-by date, or even leftover fridge food that will be thrown away before a holiday. The app’s founders, Saasha Celestial-One and Tessa Clarke,  recently won a United Nations Climate Action award recognising OLIO as one of fifteen game-changing initiatives around the world.

The issue of surplus food and feeding the hungry is a complex one which requires a collaborative and concerted approach globally from governments, private companies, public organisations and individuals. Small changes starting at home can have a big impact and will benefit vulnerable members of communities and beyond. The onus is on everyone to buy and share food responsibly.

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